Group’s cycling survey reveals some interesting results
By: Marlo Campbell
"If you build it, they will come," seems to be the theory underlying recent investments in local active-transportation infrastructure.
Last year saw an unprecedented $20.4 million was spent on upgrades to Winnipeg’s AT network — everything from improved signage and painted bike lanes to new multi-use pathways and those oh-so-controversial traffic-calming circles.
One assumes the goal of such investments is to encourage more citizens to cycle by making it safer and more convenient to do so — which begs the question: how do we know whether the improvements are having the desired effect?
The answer: count the number of Winnipeggers riding bikes.
Bike to the Future, a volunteer-run organization working to promote cycling as a means of transportation, has been doing exactly this for the past five years. Each spring, it stations people at various locations around the city during morning and afternoon rush hours to document the level of bicycle traffic. Because its focus is on commuter cycling, counts are limited to weekdays with special attention paid to routes in and out of downtown, particularly "choke points" (such as bridges) that cyclists can’t avoid.
Since 2007, volunteers have completed 312 counts at 86 locations. This year, they completed 96 counts at 45 locations — 21 of which formed a circle downtown, although counts were also done in Fort Garry near the University of Manitoba, in St. Vital at Dakota Street and Bishop Grandin Boulevard, in St. James at Overdale Street and Bruce Avenue, and in West Kildonan at Main Street and the Chief Peguis Trail.
The 2011 final report was released Aug. 12 and is available at biketothefuture.org. It estimates 5,600 Winnipeggers commute into downtown by bike on a typical spring weekday — but volunteers recorded other things, too. For example, 61% of cyclists were observed to be wearing helmets (more women than men), while, on average, 53% of cyclists rode illegally on sidewalks.
Jeremy Hull, the volunteer co-ordinator/manager of the annual count, says sidewalk riding depends a lot on location. Take the underpass on Pembina Highway near Jubilee Avenue, for example.
"People are very afraid of going through the underpass," Hull says. "They’ll cross Pembina and take the sidewalk and then come back — at quite a bit of extra inconvenience to them, in some cases."
This year’s most surprising finding is an apparent 20% decline in commuter cycling traffic from 2010 (although it should be noted that overall bike traffic has increased by an estimated 20% since 2007).
Hull suggests this could be explained by geography and Bike to the Future’s limited capacity.
"Maybe cycling is increasing in general, but maybe, because we’re counting at these places that haven’t been improved, like the bridges, we’re not capturing it. So maybe people are cycling more on those trails within Fort Rouge or within St. James or within other area of the city, but they’re not crossing the bridges; they’re taking short trips and doing things within their neighbourhoods, or going on some of the new trails that we just aren’t capturing."
Hull’s hypothesis begs another question: why is the city relying on volunteers to collect such important data? If it’s truly committed to developing Winnipeg’s AT network, shouldn’t it also be committed to documenting cycling trends in order to know where future investments are needed?
If you build it, they will come — but only if you build it right.
*Marlo Campbell drives a car to work but cycles for fun. There’s no way in hell she’d ride her bike through the Pembina underpass.*